ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — By definition, there can be only one sole survivor. But, for these purposes, we’ll say Toby Ball is the defensive sole survivor and LaMar Bratton his offensive counterpart.
Bratton, an offensive lineman, and Ball, an inside linebacker, are the only players on the University of New Mexico roster who signed letters of intent in February 2010 and are entering their fifth year in the program.
They take their seniority seriously.
“It seems like yesterday,” Ball said, “that we were on the scout squad not knowing what the heck was going on.
“Now, it’s our turn. We’ve got to lead this team and get it back to the promised land.”
What happened to the rest of that group, the second of former coach Mike Locksley’s three UNM recruiting classes?
Defensive back Devontah Tabanna originally was part of that class but had some NCAA Clearinghouse issues and instead became part of the 2011 class. Outside linebacker Javarie Johnson didn’t sign a letter of intent that February but transferred in that August.
As for the rest, they’ve scattered to the wind. The class of 2011 was similarly diminished by attrition. As a result, third-year coach Bob Davie has just eight seniors who began their college careers as scholarship players at UNM.
To Davie, that makes Bratton, Ball, et al., that much more important.
“The guys that are still here from the last regime, I really appreciate those guys,” he said.
Ball and Bratton have seen their share of turmoil and change. But, they say, within the stability that Davie has established, change is good.
“We’re focusing a lot more on the details,” said Bratton, almost certain to become a four-year starter this fall at either guard or center.
“Mainly, a lot of things off the field, making sure everybody goes to class and making sure everybody treats people right. Those are the first things you have to take care of before anything on the field can change.”
There’s plenty of change on the field, as well – as one would expect within a program that has gone 7-18 the past two seasons.
What’s different, four sessions into spring practice?
“Our energy level, the pace of practice, for sure,” said Ball, who was limited by injuries to seven games and 19 tackles as a junior.
On March 23, the day before spring drills began, Davie said at a news conference that his team played hard in 2013. It needs to play harder, he said, in 2014. Message received.
Davie’s mantra this spring has been “point A to point B,” meaning maximum effort is expected from the snap of the ball until the whistle blows on each play.
“We came in (at the beginning of the current semester), and every player went down and graded their own film,” Ball said. “That was the biggest thing, looking at your ‘A’ and ‘B’. Were you giving your full effort on (any particular) play? That’s our biggest thing right now.”
“Point A to Point B” might not seem to have quite as much relevance to offense as to defense. Not so, Bratton said.
“Technique’s not always going to be perfect,” he said, “so effort is what’s gonna save us.
“If you can just focus on that play right there and not think about the rest of the game … just over and over again until the final whistle’s finally blown, then we can look up and see what the score is.”
TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE: The Lobos abandoned their practice fields and worked out on University Stadium’s synthetic turf Tuesday, spring session No. 4, because of high winds.
“We’ve all learned our lessons around this country about putting anybody up on those (video camera) lifts in the wind,” Davie said.
The stadium obviously doesn’t offer as much protection from the wind as the Indoor Practice Facility, but Davie said he and his staff get better video in the stadium than in the IPF.
LOCKSLEY SIGHTING: QB Kai Locksley, the former UNM coach’s son, reportedly has a scholarship offer from the University of Texas. Locksley will be a senior at Gilman High School in Baltimore. The elder Locksley is the offensive coordinator at Maryland.
Eldorado quarterback Zach Gentry also has a scholarship offer from Texas.